Higher Ground: New Detroit laws make the future uncertain for marijuana dispensaries

Mar 2, 2016 at 1:00 am

The Elite Detroit medical marijuana provisioning center is located in a former car dealership on Woodward not far north of Seven Mile Road. There is a tall cyclone fence surrounding the entire facility, including a spacious parking lot. Customers can only enter and exit the lot from Woodward; there's no way to go directly into the neighborhood from there.

The self-contained little compound would seem to be the perfect place for the security conscious set.

A littler farther south, on the other side of Seven Mile, the Miles Green Acres provisioning center sits in a former ice cream shop. Fortuitously, it's next door to the Dutch Girl Donuts store. There's some convenience there: Stock up on weed and stock up on doughnuts.

The folks over at Dutch Girl, which has been on its corner for my entire life (and the only place I have ever found the powdered lemon stick), seem unperturbed by the new neighbors. "They don't bother us; we don't bother them," says one Dutch Girl worker.

About a half-mile farther south is the Tribute Detroit provisioning center, where the fenced parking lot on the side makes for secure and easy entrance to the building. Just like all of the places discussed here, you have to get buzzed into the door and there is a security guard near the entrance.

All of these would seem to be good business locations, along Woodward between McNichols and Eight Mile, to catch the traffic traveling north on our most famous avenue. But each of these stores could soon close if Detroit's restrictive Medical Marihuana Caregiver Centers ordinance is enacted as it's written and scheduled to be rolled out.

Tribute Detroit and Miles Green Acres would be affected because they are across the street from Palmer Park. According to the new law, no centers can be within 1,000 feet of an outdoor recreation facility.

Elite Detroit is right next door to a church. The new law says caregiver centers have to be at least 1,000 feet from a church. The folks over at Elite didn't want to talk about it when I asked, and nobody answered the phone at the Original New Grace Missionary Baptist Church next door when I called.

The application process for caregiver centers was scheduled to start. All of the estimated 211 facilities in the city have until March 31 to apply for a license. The expectation is that there will be a dramatic reduction in the number of medical marijuana storefronts. Mayor Mike Duggan uttered the war cry at his State of the City address last week: "... we're finally going to start shutting down marijuana dispensaries in the city of Detroit."

"What's going to happen is 95 percent of the people who log on to the city map will find that their property is not in compliance," says Richard Clement, an aide to Councilman George Cushingberry Jr. "It's going to be a discouragement to a lot of people. It's going to reduce the number to less than 50. People like [those] on Woodward who put over $100,000 into their places as an investment. This is all going to be lost."

There are more than 200 dispensaries in Detroit, says attorney Matt Abel, of Detroit's Cannabis Counsel legal office.

"Some 60 of them are close to schools, others are near libraries, day care centers, and parks. I would guess that roughly half of the places that are open now are not going to pass the initial zoning screening and that their applications won't even be considered," Abel says. "The first thing they look at is that they are in the proper zoning district."

There is a possibility that a petition to stop the Detroit ordinance from taking effect was registered Monday. If the folks at Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform gathered enough signatures, the city law would be put on hold until an election is held and voters decide. There were petitions at all the Woodward locations that I visited last week.

Suspending the law's effective date would give shop owners some reprieve, but it would be uneasy. Operations were already iffy when the city paid no attention to them. Now that the mayor has announced an intention to shut them down and brought police Chief James Craig into the conversation, in addition to the intimidating letter that Corporation Counsel Butch Hollowell sent to business owners, it's clear that the fight is on. Lawyers for shop owners have already complained of raids and intimidating visits from police in advance of the licensing procedure going into effect.

According to the city, there are 651 parcels available for caregiver centers in Detroit once all the distances from various institutions are considered. Many of those parcels are bunched into industrial areas on the southwest and northeast areas of town.

Either way, we're a long way from getting settled about medical marijuana's presence in Detroit, or even who's allowed on the map.

"We don't even know if we're going to be here," says Melanie Faison of Mile Green Acres.

Nobody else in her business knows either.

At the same time that Detroit is fighting about where medical marijuana stores can be located, state Sen. Coleman A. Young II has introduced a "non-medical marijuana code" in Lansing. It all seems so absurd at times. "Non-medical marijuana" is apparently just marijuana, and Young's legislation would regulate and tax recreational marijuana. In a curious provision, Young would tax buds at $50 per ounce, and leaf at $15 per ounce.

That's just another layer to this crazy patchwork quilt of law governing marijuana. Last week the Vermont Senate voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana (although the provision to allow home grows was killed). Pretty soon we're all going to need a phone app to tell us what the local marijuana laws are as we move about the state or the country. Across the river in Canada, the federal court just ruled that denying medical access to marijuana violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and reinforcing the right of patients to grow their own. The Trudeau government is actively working on a legal recreational marijuana plan. That's right; we can stand downtown and see a prohibition-free nation.